Gym rats and total newbies alike know that your hungry muscles need a hearty helping of protein immediately after working out to build back what’s been broken down. That’s how new, bigger muscles are built after all. You likely also know that a critical second part of your diet on gym days is a hearty portion of carbohydrates before working out so that your body has sufficient energy to actually do all of that exercising. But there’s a third integral part of the gym day diet trifecta: gummy bears. Here’s how this sweet missing piece of your workout routine can help you make those gains and level up.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Nobody is suggesting that you should eat a full bowl of gummy bears, and no, I’m not calling them healthy. But in moderation, they do have one very singular benefit. To really grasp what gummy bears can do for your depleted body, you first need to understand what happens to your muscles when you work out.
Anaerobic exercise – workouts that don’t necessarily target the cardiovascular system, like lifting weights – depletes your body of two molecular resources: adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glucose. As ATP is spent during exercise, your body springs into action to produce more, triggering a chain of events that increases the speed and depth of your breath, along with your heart rate, in order to pull oxygen back into the body and restore cellular respiration levels. Lactic acid, the molecule that makes muscles feel sore after exercise, forms when ATP regeneration is insufficient, and generally takes a few days to break back down and pass through your body’s digestive system.
It’s the second compound that your body uses during exercise that will eventually lead us back to the gummy bears though. In order to efficiently contract muscles, your body burns glucose, in the form of glycogen. The process is perhaps unsurprisingly called glycolysis. But human beings weren’t designed to perform intense exercise for hours on end, so our bodies are genetically programmed to only keep very small silos of glycogen on hand. When you work out, your glycogen reserves are the first thing to go.
All of the protein supplements and creatine in the world won’t be able to replenish those glycogen levels. The same goes for branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), another buzzy, post-workout supplement that weightlifters have flocked to in recent years. The only thing that is going to restore your body’s glycogen levels are sugars – specifically, glucose. But isn’t glucose sugar, and glycogen by default, a carbohydrate? And aren’t carbs antithetical to the idea of burning fat and beefing up muscle? Hold onto your heads, because it’s about to get even more confusing.
There are two categories of carbohydrates that we’re primarily concerned with when it comes to fitness. We’re usually taught to avoid high glycemic, fast-burning carbs like processed sugars, white rice, white bread, white potatoes and candy, because they make us fat. Instead, the general rule of thumb is that low glycemic, slow-burning carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and whole grains are what we should be eating. But low glycemic carbs digest too slowly to provide our bodies with the uptick in glycogen production that it requires after a workout. A handful of gummy bears, saccharine though they may be, are just what the doctor ordered in terms of a rapid glycogen fix.
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Glycogen replenishment causes a spike in insulin within the body, which opens up certain receptors on muscle cells. These activated receptors in turn allow many of the more obvious molecules we associate with exercise – like protein, amino acids, and even creatine – to be absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive system. Sure, your body will get around to allowing much of that protein in if you give it enough time. But a post-workout glycogen spike essentially pulls all of the turnstiles out, and allows everyone through all at once. Because we know that timing is limited during the muscular restoration process, and that waiting too long to rejuvenate your stressed and shredded muscles with new protein basically negates the entire workout, gummy bears are actually a pretty obvious “supplement” from a scientific perspective.
If you just can’t bring yourself to down a handful of candy after busting a sweat in the gym, you can achieve similar results by scarfing down a bowl of plain, hot oatmeal. But you tell me which of the two is the more enticing option after an hour of exhaustive sweating. If you want further proof that the gummy bear science is legit, look no further than the number of nutritional supplement companies that are now actively in the business of selling gummy bears riffs. So there you have it. If you want to up your gym game, a serving of gummy bears is just what the doctor ordered.